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Apr 11, 2006

Shevchenko urges Italian fans to gain perspective

MILAN, April 11 (Reuters) - AC Milan's Ukrainian striker Andrei Shevchenko has urged Italian football to sort itself out following the attack by fans on two Inter Milan players.

The assault on Javier and Cristiano Zanetti has prompted a number of figures in the sport to call for a change in the culture of the game and Inter coach Roberto Mancini said he would rather work abroad in the future.

'We have to look to the future, if it carries on like this then we will end up like the gladiators of ancient Rome - if you lose you get torn to pieces,' Shevchenko said in an interview with the daily Gazzetta dello Sport.

'The fans have the right to protest but it is out of order to attack people. Whoever plays this game gives all they can and tries to win, I am convinced of that. I don't know of any footballers who play for any other reason,' added the Milan striker referring to claims from some Inter fans that their players have not been trying.

Shevchenko said the problem was linked to a lack of perspective from many in the game.

'I don't understand it - if you win then you are a superstar and if you lose you are a cretin - it happens at Inter, to us, at Juventus and others. It's not like that in Ukraine or in other countries I know that. There needs to be a sense of balance from everyone,' said Shevchenko who will line up against Inter in Friday's Milan derby.

The former European Player of the Year urged the derby to be approached with a different attitude than so often in Italian football.

'This derby will be a game like many others, I'm sure of that. It is important for us and important for Inter but let's not have it described as the 'last chance' - why is it the last chance?' he asked.

The Ukraine international, who is in his seventh season with Milan, said it was not only the fans who needed to avoid extreme reactions to winning and losing.

'The club directors need to avoid raising the team to the stars and then dropping them down to earth. They need to maintain some balance - as do journalists,' he said.

The latest incident to stain the image of Italian football happened in the early hours of Sunday as Inter players exited the terminal building at Milan's Malpensa airport, where they were met by about 50 fans, angry at their team's Champions League elimination by Villarreal last week.

Most of the fans limited themselves to hurling insults, but the situation degenerated in the car park. Javier Zanetti and Cristiano Zanetti were punched and kicked by a smaller group before police intervened, allowing them to reach their cars and drive away. Neither player was seriously injured.

In recent years, Inter have built up a reputation as having one of the most violent fan-bases in Italian football, the outbreaks of violence often coinciding with disappointing results on the pitch.